Paul Finnegan PhD Proposal

Art and the Semiotic Threshold


Reevaluating my practice from the standpoint of this proposal, a focused enquiry has evolved. In a previous body of work I have explored questions about how an object attains a particular identity, how it can be named and classified, and to see what happens when this identity is stretched to breaking point, shifted or interrupted in some way. I’ve been concerned with how naming divides the world up, and how when these divisions are upset, new relationships can be articulated. For example, Untitled 1997 (Fig. 1) is a pair of gentleman’s shoes out of which rises a “something”, which although we want to read it as a body, its features resist naming; suspended as an ‘almost’, a succession of adjectives rather than nameable parts. This investigation of the in-between states of objects is approached in another way in Picture 2000 (Fig. 2). A cast of a cupped hand is repeated in a grid to form a rectangle. The volume of the body part is restructured into a flat plane. I was interested in the difference between how a plane might be generated in living matter (e.g. a leaf, an insect’s wing) in contrast to the flat plane in culture – a painting, a screen. Anemone 2002 (Fig. 3) shows a property paper from which a presence repeatedly appears and disappears out of the surface. Rather like a mimetic animal this presence confuses the boundary between natural and artificial.

I now wish to develop these themes further and test propositions within the rigorous and critical context of a PhD. Progressing from this previous work the current proposal turns upon certain questions about how we experience the relationship between language and things. I’m interested in the inherent difficulty in grasping the bond between the physical world and the world of language, of how we account for the dual aspect of signs as having both a physical and a mental dimension, and in particular the kind of signs that are artworks. I will set out a theoretical and practical scheme for examining the relationship between human language and natural phenomena for which a language-like quality is implied, examining the differences and similarities between what Umberto Eco distinguishes as “signs” and “signals” (1978). The proposal starts with the question  – what do human language and the “languages” of nature have to do with each other? Are they co-extensive? In other words, the question of the relationship between what we might call the inherent languages of the natural world and what we might consider true language, that which we commonly take to involve some kind of mental state or event.

When we describe phenomena in nature in terms that suggest the action or the presence of signs, as in ‘genetic code’, these terms can be taken as merely metaphorical or as an implication that man-made signs and natural signals are in some sense co-extensive. This is the question of where language begins and ends, of the semiotic threshold, of whether we take a broad and inclusive view of semiosis or one restricted to the human scale. I will attempt to show the relevance of this question to art theory and practice, and try to legitimate its asking through a range of recent thinking.

In the last two decades a broad shift away from the dominant paradigms that are the legacy of Structuralism might be detected in the humanities. And particularly a departure from that legacy in how we might understand the relationship between the natural realm and the human realm. In the semiotics community this shift has manifested itself as a move away from Ferdinand de Saussure and a revival of that other key figure in semiotics Charles Sanders Peirce. Within this context we see a challenge to the orthodoxy that strictly distinguishes between the realm of human signs and the realm of natural signs, a challenge to that orthodoxy that identifies the limit of sign action, of semiosis, with the culture/nature boundary (Deely, 2001; Noth & Kull, 2001; Noth, 2001; Santaella, 2001). Starting from Peirce’s philosophy, Winfred Noth argues that contemporary science has highlighted the need to address this question of the semiotic threshold again, that “genetics and computer science have problematized hard distinctions between the semiotic and the non-semiotic” (2001, p.17)

The question of the semiotic threshold becomes relevant to art theory and practice, when it relates to the question of the semiotic status of aesthetic experience, and inversely, to the question of the aesthetic status of natural phenomena. Art and the semiotic threshold. Whether aesthetic experience is semiotic or not. Whether aesthetic experience fits a more limited or a broader conception of semiosis.

By a train of thought that relates developments in semiotics, particularly John Deely’s proposals concerning the semiotic threshold, to Hannah Ginsborg’s re-reading of Kant regarding purposiveness in nature and culture, to Graham Harman’s theory of the aesthetic basis of causation, I will aim to show how one might build a context where the proposed broader conception of semiosis becomes relevant to art theory and practice. I will aim to show that the object of a semiotics of art has novel characteristics framed in this way.

Background theory


Adrian Johnston interprets statements in Jacques Lacan’s late seminars as acknowledging the need to address nature again. He discerns in Lacan a suspicion of the traditional characterisation of nature as unified and harmonious. Johnston reads into the late seminars a contention that “nature is far from being entirely natural” (2007) and argues that Lacan isn’t here “just reiterating his earlier remarks from the 1950s about humanity’s denaturalized nature” (remarks that posit the cause of the subject’s alienation from nature as his entering into language, the institution of the Symbolic Order), but that Lacan  now identifies the origin of alienation with humanity’s given biological condition, with nature itself. For the late Lacan nature is itself defective. Nature is “not at all natural due to being internally plagued… by a decay or defect”. Culture is seen as the result of nature’s inherent flaw. What Lacan identifies here is a force that precedes that which he had previously taken to be the source of alienation. I.e. the subject’s entry into the symbolic order.  Lacan, according to Johnston, has taken the additional step of “pointing to something within nature itself that inclines in the direction of its own effacement”. Lacan thereby addresses the question of nature again but goes further than the identification in the early seminars of the dysfunctionality of humans, to a more general proposition –  the dysfunctionality of nature generally.

Lacan’s admittedly passing statements on nature, his suspicion of the ‘naturalness’ of nature, are more fully developed in Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of nature. Keith Ansell-Pearson analyses Deleuze’s early work, particularly Difference and Repetition, to explore his contribution to contemporary concepts of nature and organic life. Ansell-Pearson (1999, p.161-163) says that for Deleuze “the plane of nature enjoys as a plane of consistency a real unity, but this unity encompasses both the animate and inanimate, the natural and the artificial”. So here again we have a ‘nature’ that is not natural in the received sense. The virtual “plane of nature” may be unified but its actual effects are not. On the plane of the actual, of what we see, nature is heterogeneous rather than unified. For Deleuze it is always the case that “phenomena involve terms that are heterogeneous – humans, animals, bacteria, viruses, molecules etc.”. Ansell-Pearson maintains that Deleuze views nature as contingent rather than timeless and universal. This does not mean a culturally contingent nature, nature as a mere cultural construct, but an understanding of nature as itself inherently contingent, and therefore a force that can “operate against itself”.

Ansell-Pearson’s (1999, p.8) appeal for a Deleuzean thinking of the “assemblage”, where the human, the organic and the inanimate join in an “unnatural participation” is echoed in Bruno Latour’s address to the Tate symposium, Nature, Space, Society (Tate, 2004). Here Latour situates the contemporary discussion on nature explicitly in terms of a departure from structuralism and diagnoses the need for a “successor to nature”.

That nature is a big literary text is a French 1970s argument. What we are dealing with is quite different; what is needed is to link the terms coming from semiotics, to terms coming from politics, to terms coming from nature, and to find other terms. […] We need a new theory of nature. […] If you accept that nature is inside, it is multiple and it is disputed… then the question of a successor becomes very important. The question isn’t, is it natural, is it manmade? We need to represent… nature and the social together.

Latour’s call to think “nature and the social together” is not the classical idea of man in harmony with nature,  the  successor  of nature “is a collective… which does not know in advance the shape of humans and non-humans” (Tate, 2004). Talk of defectiveness, of a nature that operates against itself, of unnatural participation, of the collective, denies the pure unity of nature and the judicious separation of nature and artifice.


Focal theory             

The semiotic threshold

I wish to show how these broad endeavors to rethink nature can be focused in terms of a semiotic perspective. To show that an upsetting of the categories natural and artificial, animate and inanimate, has a particular relevance to semiotics and the question of where nature ends and language begins. The journal Sign System Studies dedicated its Spring 2001 issue to a discussion on the semiotics of nature. In the introductory paper Winfried Noth and Kaveli Kull (2001, p.09-10) give an historical overview of what they identify as two positions within the field of semiotics, from which the question of the relationship between culture and nature has been asked:

In the history of 20th century semiotics since [Charles Sanders] Peirce and [Ferdinand de] Saussure, there have been two views of how nature should be approached from a semiotic perspective, the view of cultural, and the view of general semiotics. The view of cultural semiotics is the one developed in the tradition of semiotic structuralism. […] Cultural semiotics investigates in how far nature is inter-preted from a cultural perspective and in how far various cultures in-terpret the same natural phenomena differently. […] Greimas and Courtés adopt this approach … when they describe the study of the “Natural world” as follows: “Nature is … not a neutral, but a strongly culturalized … referent. This means that the natural world is the place for the elaboration of a vast semiotics of cultures”. In contrast to the cultural semiotic perspective of nature, the perspective of general semiotics investigates sign processes in nature as semiotic processes sui generis [of their own kind]. […] On the basis of this broader concept of semiotics, new fields of semiotic research have been explored during the last decades, which have led to a considerable extension of the field of semiotic research.

If it is from Saussure that the first view arises, it is Peirce that embodies the latter.  The question of where nature ends and language begins is the question of the “semiotic threshold”, a term first used by Umberto Eco (1978). Understood as a line on the hierarchy animal, vegetable, mineral, Noth and Kull, with reference to the work of Thomas Sebeok, draw on the history of semiotics to give us a description of the lowering of the semiotic threshold. Sebeok was the first to use the terms “zoosemiotics” to name the study of the action of signs in animals, and “biosemiotics” as the study of the action of signs in living organisms generally:

Semiotics is no longer only concerned with signs that depend on culture and cultural codes, since it has advanced to a theory of sign processes in culture and in nature. Contributions to this extension of the semiotic field come from the history of semiotics with its long tradition of the study of natural signs, which were sometimes defined in sharp opposition to other signs, but sometimes as a branch of the general theory of signs. Research in zoosemiotics and biosemiotics has proceeded with the lowering of the semiotic threshold from human semiosis to semiotic processes whose agents are animals and micro-organisms, in fact all living cells.

But Noth and Kull (2001, p.10) go further than Sebeok’s controversial yet respectable thesis of biosemiotics, raising the question, although tentatively, “whether precursors of semiosis should even be sought in the inanimate or prebiotic world. Such a lowering of the semiotic threshold would then include the study of the action of signs at the most base level, a “physicosemiotics” (Noth & Kull) or a “physiosemiotics” (Deely)”.

Physiosemiosis / Physicosemiosis

Noth identifies the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce as foundational to the development of the field of non-human semiotics, recounting “the lowering of the semiotic threshold in semiotics during the last decades… went parallel with the rediscovery of Peirce’s broad concept of semiosis” (2001, p.15). In the papers that follow Noth and Kull’s introduction, a broadly Peircean semiotics of nature is further developed. In Physiosemiosis in the semiotic spiral: A play of musement, John Deely describes how the semiotic threshold “can be understood in two senses – the striking of a line on the hierarchy of forms – mineral, vegetable, animal, or between the ideal realm and the physical realm – concepts and things, mind and nature” (2001, P.24). We have seen the former sense given above; it is to the latter sense that Deely turns. Deely uses Peirce’s broad concept of mind to develop a proposition for a physiosemiotics that overarches the distinctions between human, animal, vegetable, mineral. He gives an account of how Peirce’s strange metaphysical principles, his unusual view of the place of mind in nature, give a particular perspective to our understanding of signs (2001, p.24):

[Peirce] did not believe in any dualism between mind and matter, but which came first in cosmic evolution? Peirce’s answer to the riddle of evolutionary primacy is a metaphysical one: mind comes first, matter last. Semiosis is hence the origin, matter the end of evolution. This is why Peirce can say that matter is mind frozen “to regular routine”.

Peirce’s contention that mind is there from the beginning, also summed up in his maxim, “matter is effete [degenerate] mind” (1891, p.170), alongside his assertion (1906) that “all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs”, suggests a belief in the pervasiveness of the right conditions for semiosis in nature. Exploring the consequences of such a suggestion Deely first proposes his theory of physiosemiosis in Basics of Semiotics (1990). Later, in What is a sign? he defines physiosemiosis as that which is “prior to and surrounding… biosemiosis… and anthroposemiosis”. He identifies the idea’s lineage in scholastic philosophy and makes a distinction between his thinking and the semiotic tradition around Sebeok:

I think that Sebeok has been uncharacteristically hasty in his dismissal of semiosis virtually active in the world of things, dismissing such language as mere metaphor. […] There is an alternative, a third way between metaphor and organic semiosis… suggested by the father of systematic semiotics. […] According to [John] Poinsot it suffices to be a sign virtually in order to actually signify. By this formula, even in the dyadic interaction of things, relations are born sufficient to constitute a semiosis at work in the inorganic no less than organic layers of nature, and prior even to the advent of organic layers – indeed anticipatory of that event.

Noth also examines what Peirce’s phrase “a universe perfused with signs” might suggest, although with more caution than Deely. In Protosemiotics and physicosemiotics, he discusses the relationship between Peirce’s semiotic theory and Peirce’s theory of causation, in order to ask what a “physicosemiotics” would mean in Peircean terms. Peirce makes the distinction between efficient causes (that which follow the laws of nature) and final/ideal causes  (semiotic agencies). Peirce’s sign has three steps: Firstness (immediacy), Secondness (physical or “efficient” causality) and Thirdness (purposiveness or “final causality”).   In this triadic model the physical and the ideational are not polarised but are, rather, related causally. However, Thirdness, as the quality of ‘aboutness’ is not reducible to physical causality. So to ask whether there can be a semiotics spanning the animate, the inanimate and the human, i.e. a most general semiotics – a physicosemiotics – is to ask if we can find Thirdness in all things. Is to ask, according to Noth “whether final causality exists only in the purpose of the sign interpreter or whether it also exists in the sign before it is interpreted or even in the object of the sign”. In other words, “whether there is a final causality also outside of the mind of an interpreting subject” (2001, p.17). In the end Noth is cautious about this possibility and concludes that Peirce is at best ambiguous on these questions.

Art and biosemiosis

Thus far, any insights that may follow from Deely and Noth’s theory of physio/physicosemiosis would be insights on the nature of signs in general. Even upon this broader definition of semiosis there is nothing to suggest that the particular types of sign that we call works of art should be treated as anything other than the object of a semiotics of culture, and as residing comfortably within that field. Nevertheless, in the remainder of this proposal I wish to argue that works of art can be viewed as the object of the more general semiotics that I’ve introduced above.

The proposition of biosemiosis, that biological systems are inherently meaningful, I propose, has a particular relevance to art theory and practice, and questions about the relationship between art and nature. Hannah Ginsborg (2005) in an adventurous reading of Kant’s Critique of judgment draws out the implicit association Kant makes there between the purposiveness of art and the purposiveness of nature. She asks if Kant is applying one and the same concept of purposiveness to both nature and artifice.

Hannah Ginsborg’s (2005) question in her reading of Kant’s account of purposiveness is similar to Noth’s question over the relationship between nature and artifice. She is taken by the curious affiliation Kant makes between works of art and organisms by virtue of their side-by-side treatment in the Critique of judgment, and asks if this indicates that Kant is applying one and the same concept of purposiveness to both nature and artifice:

Kant applies various forms of purposiveness to organisms, to artifacts, to beautiful objects, to nature as a whole. […] There has been disagreement among commentators about whether the notion of purposiveness, which figures in the aesthetic context, is the same as that which figures in Kant’s account of organisms.

In an earlier thesis (1997, p.329) Ginsborg argues that Kant is applying a univocal conception of purposiveness in the Critique of judgment, that within it Kant rationalizes a form of purposiveness crossing the threshold between organisms and artifacts.  Ginsborg’s reading of Kant would support contemporary philosophies that blur the boundary between nature and culture. If we take any general idea of purposiveness as an idea that must account for purposiveness as involving the action of signs, Ginsborg’s general theory of purposiveness in Kant begins to look like Deely’s general theory of the sign. It implies the same as Deely’s thesis, that natural signs are signs proper and are co-extensiveness with man-made signs.  It echoes the view that signs exist inherently in the natural world as well as in culture – as well as for us. Thus Ginsborg’s account of Kantian purposiveness can be taken as relevant to a Peircean inspired semiotics of nature. In this way Kant the humanist may, surprisingly, contribute to a theory of non human-dependent semiosis.

I suggest that any definition of purposiveness would be to incorporate the quality of “aboutness”, that which is the quality of the sign, and that therefore a univocal definition of purposiveness in organisms and art, inferring a semiotic dimension to both organisms and art breaches the commonly held semiotic threshold. Furthermore, if we take it that Kant is applying the same meaning of purposiveness to natural entities (organisms) and man-made entities, the quality of purposiveness that he applies to nature on the one hand is only applied to a particular type of man-made object on the other – i.e. the work of art (1997, p.329).

Physiosemiosis and indirect causation

The question over the co-extensiveness of natural processes and semiotic processes raises a further question about the nature of causation. Although using different terminology from that of semiotics, and in a different theoretical context from Deely’s Peircean perspective, Graham Harman’s (2007; 2010; 2011) theory of indirect causation has an affiliation with Deely’s semiotic theory. Harman’s criticism of philosophies that put language centre stage is perhaps a reason for the absence of a philosophy of language in his work. He is critical of philosophies of human access and particularly those that enshrine language as conditional to that access. However, biosemiotic and physiosemiotic theory might avoid such a criticism to the extent that they describe a non-anthropocentric semiotics. The theme of non-human sense connects Harman to the question of the semiotic threshold and the proposition of physiosemiotics. Both Deely and Harman are seeking to theorise natural laws as forms of sense that are co-extensive with human sense. Deely’s argument that final/ideal causality is ubiquitous in nature and Harman’s metaphysics of “indirect causation” have in common the proposition that physical interactions are no less mediated than mental interactions. Both introduce the phenomenon of “aboutness” into what we take to be simple physical causation. It could be argued that Deely’s assertion that all interactions are always already semiotic interactions is implicit in Harman’s ontology.

Harman’s aesthetic theory of causation, is similar in feel to Deely’s  physiosemiosis. Each attempts to describe physical causation and ideational causation in shared terms. But for Harman it is the aesthetic function, rather than the semiotic function, that is identified with the primary process of interaction between things. He proposes it is the aesthetic function that mediates between the physical and the ideal. In The Quadruple Object (2011) Harman describes the relationship between objects and other objects in the same terms as those between objects and subjects. To make this work he puts sensation at the heart of the question of how all objects, and not just the special case of how the human subject and its objects, interact.

He argues that the case of an object encountering another object is ontologically the same as a human subject encountering an object. That all objects, animate and inanimate, encounter each other as sensual objects. That is, indirectly.

Deely’s physiosemiosic object has rather the same characteristics as Harman’s bipartite real/sensual object.  Both Deely and Harman generalize sense as a phenomena broader than just human sense. Firstly, they are both theories of sense as a phenomena existing independently of the human perceptual relation. Secondly, of phenomenon co-extensive with matter but not reducible to it. Thirdly, the physiosemiosic object and the real/sensual object are not finite, because a material signifier can have infinite significations in the case of Deely’s “sign” and a real object can have infinite sensual objects in the case of Harman’s “object”. Harman attempts to posit the existence of objects and Deely the existence of signs independent of human sensual access. It could be argued that this adds up to the same or a very similar proposition.

Physiosemiosis and aesthetics

In Harman’s scheme all causation is a sensual event, an aesthetic event. All objects interact primarily through aesthetic encounter rather than direct physical action. Harman asserts that aesthetic encounter is not a special kind of relationship but the primary means of interaction between all things, the basis of all causation.

Harman’s broad project has been to revise and extend Martin Heidegger’s aesthetic theory into a general theory of the interaction of objects. Thompson (2011) summarises that for Heidegger, “our encounter with the work [of art] teaches us that  meaning does not happen solely in the art object or the viewing subject but instead takes place, we could say, between us and the work. This, again, is an ontological truth; it holds true of (human) existence in general. To be Dasein [Being] is to be “the being of the between”. But this general truth of existence we only “lucidly encounter in art”.  Harman argues that Heidegger is thinking in the right direction when he challenges the classical distinction between subject and object but that he (or perhaps the work of art) doesn’t go far enough. Harman seeks to extend what the work of art teaches Heidegger to the proposition that a particular attitude towards objects, another level of understanding that the work of art leads us to, goes beyond placing meaning and being between the subject and the object, between us and the work, but places it beyond the human subject altogether. He proposes an aesthetic theory that is still Heideggerian, but one where the object now contains the subject, dispensing with the human subject as essential to the aesthetic relation. Harman’s step is to propose that beyond an account of meaning as necessarily anthropocentric, we can generalize this encounter as one that obtains between non-human entities as well.  The work done by meaning, the action of signs that obtains between human entities and non-human entities would also obtain between non-human entities and other non-human entities.



  • To apply Peircean inspired theories of the semiotics of nature, particularly Deely’s physiosemiotic theory to art theory and practice.
  • To demonstrate a prevailing concern for the semiotic threshold in the history of sculpture, and evaluate those moments in the light of contemporary developments in the semiotics of nature.
  • To generate new sculptural propositions that extend and focus these concerns.
  • To renew the consideration of form in sculpture upon an understanding of form from a physiosemiotic perspective.


Objective (potential original contribution of this project)

Approaching the theory and practice of art as a pansemiotic proposition that incorporates physiosemiotics, biosemiotics and anthroposemiotics.

Key questions

  • How can art address the question: Are human language and the ‘”languages’” of nature co-extensive?
  • What reimagining of the relationship between art and nature would need to take place to answer the above question?
  • Can physiosemiotic concepts generate significant insights when applied to the creation and interpretation of art?

Other questions

  • Are there antecedents to the idea of physiosemiosis in the history of art?
  • What would a physiosemiotic analysis of sculpture involve?
  • What would be the consequences of a physiosemiotic aesthetics to judgments of good and bad form?
  • What is the semiotic status of forms that are not individuated?
  • What is the role of form in semiosis? What are the differences and similarities between life processes and language processes, if we consider both as ways in which matter is brought into form?
  • Is form only a mental reality or does form have an independent physical reality?
  • How might the concept of physiosemiosis be relevant to the possibility of a new formalism?
  • What do the purposiveness of artworks and organisms have in common? In what sense can a sculpture be purposive in the sense that an organism is purposive?
  • Is form physical or mental, or both? What are this question’s implications for how we understand the agency of form in the physical, biological and cultural realms and their interaction?
  • Can suspending our disbelief that the sign form inheres to natural form result in anything intelligible?
  • Where does the proposition that causation in general is an aesthetic encounter between things put art as a special kind of aesthetic encounter?



Causal error generator

Generate mistaken judgments of cause/effect relations, teleologies, ontologies and purposes. Construct narratives that suggest false origins and destinations for objects, and false causes for states and events. Confuse representations for the real and explore the consequences of such. Assume intention/purposiveness is behind events and productions when it is not. Test what is needed to imply a narrative of causal relations in a group of objects. Test whether there is an affiliation between superstitions about the power of signification and the knowledge content of an artwork. “Every mistake involves taking something that is not for something that is. So every mistake involves an action of signs.” (Deely, 2009, p.15).  Propose mistakenness as a way of exploring the dichotomy between physical agency and semiotic agency.


Unnatural participation

Address the question of the semiotic threshold. Examine the structure and organisation of biological systems that challenge the nature myths embedded in the structure of language. Through abstraction and transformation find formal equivalents to these systems. Explore the experience of in-between states/forms in sculpture. Test whether this experience develops any insights related to the notion of physiosemiosis. Nature to digest culture, and become not-nature in the process. Digest connotes biological assimilation but also to read, a synthesis that crosses the semiotic threshold.    

Experiments in hybrid umwelts (or semiospheres) and hybrid teleologies (hybrid teleological/non-teleological objects) as an equivalence to the work of art as the experience of the non-semiotic and the semiotic together. Which terms of a semiosphere would be the semiotic and the alter-semiotic together- two incompatible semiospheres somehow interacting? To grow forms expressing such an interaction, an unnatural participation.  Culture to revolutionise nature and become not-culture in the process. And the relata of the sculpture to disclose this.

The semiotic becoming non-semiotic or the non-semiotic becoming semiotic. A mixing of lifeworlds or semiospheres. An impossible hybridization of semiospheres. To capture this threshold sense by manifesting a tenuous subjectivity.


Form of final submission.  

The written component will not be an artwork. The written component will not be a theorisation of an artwork. It will identify a contextual and critical framework for the practical work rather than serve as a theorization of practice. Writing will be approached as a parallel rather than prescriptive practice in relation to the artwork. It will provide the basis for locating and validating what is being claimed to be original in the project. The written component will form a reflective statement on the practical work, advance a rationale for its development, and claim a position in relation to the above questions, as well as evidence a quality of argumentation that would legitimize an outcome. It will step outside the outcomes of the research and explicate the way in which the research embodies its contribution to the advancement of knowledge, understanding and insight.

The artwork will demonstrate the validity of a particular method to deliver the research solution. The validity of the method will be dependent on the validity of the outcome. The validity of the outcome will not be dependent on the validity of the method. The validity of the outcome will not be dependent on theoretical argument or rationale. The artwork will be an experience rather than a theory. That theory is immanent to practice will require a reflexive approach to practice. The practical work will be an end in itself demonstrating that the particular form it takes is the necessary form to achieve the experience that is achieved. The artwork will be a realization of knowledge as experience.

Work Plan

MPhil stage

  • Induction. Complete initial research training
  • Establish terms of supervision
  • Plan and carry out literature review.
  • Analyse and evaluate material to establish existing knowledge
  • Define background and focal theory and context
  • Identify the limits of existing knowledge to review potential originality of proposal
  • Complete other core courses
  • Plan and realign if necessary initial phase of practical enquiry on the basis of evaluating literature review
  • Carry out initial diagnostic practical work
  • Evaluate results to inform the planning of main body of work
  • Complete and submit report to register for PhD stage, to include evaluation of literature review, an account of progress and a proposal for the PhD stage.
  • Interview for PhD registration approval
  • Complete and submit remedial work if required

PhD commencement stage

  • Find vehicles for particular aspects of project
  • Identify distinct projects. Identify networks for sharing knowledge, collaboration and opportunities to develop projects
  • Case studies. Organise, plan and conduct interviews

Engagement stage

  • Refresh and advance research skills
  • Assess the fit of aims to research design
  • Undertake projects to produce main body of practical work and disseminate knowledge
  • Document results
  • Evaluate results. Start writing up.
  • Test findings through feedback from discipline experts
  • Return to and revise application of focal theory to practical work.

Realisation stage

  • Identify substantial vehicle to disseminate final findings
  • Complete written thesis
  • Submit thesis and body of practical work for examination
  • Prepare for and undertake viva examination


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Deely, J. (2001). Physiosemiosis in the semiotic spiral: a play of musement. Sign system studies (special issue on semiotics of nature). Vol. 29 Issue 1. pp.27-48.

Deely, J. (2004). A sign is what? A dialogue between a semiotist and a would be realist. The American Journal of Semiotics Vol. 20. Issue 1-4. pp.1-66.

Eco, U. (1978). A theory of semiotics. London: New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Ginsborg, H. (1997). Kant on aesthetic and biological purposiveness. In:  Reath, A, Herman, B and Korsgaard, C, M. (2007). Reclaiming the history of ethics: essays for John Rawls. Cambridge, CB: Cambridge University Press. pp.329-360.

Ginsborg, H. (2005). Kant’s aesthetics and teleology. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online]. July 2005. Available from: [Accessed 06 February 2011].

Harman, G. (2007). On vicarious causation. Collapse. Vol.2: Speculative Realism. March 2007. pp.187-221.

Harman, G. (2010). Towards speculative realism: essays and lectures. Alresford, Hants: Zero Books.

Harman, G. (2011). The quadruple object. Alresford, HANTS: Zero Books.

Johnston, A. (2007). Lightning ontology: Slavoj Zizek and the unbearable lightness of being free. The Symptom: Online Journal for Issue 8. Winter 2007. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 06 February 2011].

Noth, W. and Kull, K. (2001). Introduction: special issue on semiotics of nature. Sign system studies (special issue on semiotics of nature). Vol. 29 Issue 1. pp.09-11.

Noth, W. (2001). Protosemiotics and physicosemiotics. Sign system studies (special issue on semiotics of nature). Vol. 29 Issue 1. pp.13-26.

C. S. Peirce (1891). The Architecture of Theories. In: The Monist Vol.1 

C. S. Peirce, (1906) CP 5.448 footnote, from The Basis of Pragmaticism

Santaella, L. (2001). “Matter as effete mind”: Peirce’s synechistic ideas on the semiotic threshold. Sign system studies (special issue on semiotics of nature). Vol. 29 Issue 1. pp.49-62.

Seboek, T. A. (2000). The forms of meaning: modeling systems theory and semiotic analysis (approaches to semiotics). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tate (2004). Bruno Latour: nature, space, society. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 06 February 2011].

Thomson, I. (2011). Heidegger’s Aesthetics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online]. May 2011. Available from: [Accessed  27 November 2011] 

Fig. 1.

Paul Finnegan

Untitled 1997

Polyester resin, Artex, gentleman’s shoes

190cm x 120cm x 90cm

Fig. 2.

Paul Finnegan

Picture 2000

Polyester resin

136cm x 136cm x 4cm

Fig. 3.

Paul Finnegan

Anemone (stills from video) 2002


1m 26s

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